Party with a Purpose
Philanthropic young alumni join forces in Philadelphia to fight cancer.
by Lauren Davidson
April 1, 2009
The Fuel the Cure committee, from left: Matt Lukof, Eliza Hanson, Jennifer Yaron, Mirza Cavalic '04, Shaina Flynn '05, Kate Weissman '07, and Shane Bair '04.
Here’s the hypothesis: Young professionals enjoy going out on the weekends; when they’re out, they spend money; and where there’s money, there’s often a way to make it do some good. Perhaps the arithmetic would look like this: One Saturday night, plus unlimited cocktails in a festive atmosphere, times lots of people, equals proceeds that can fuel a good cause.
Mirza Cavalic ’04 made it all add up. At age 11, he lost his father to leukemia. Throughout high school and college, he wondered what he could do to make a difference for the millions who were suffering and dying from the disease, but he didn’t find the right opportunity. After earning his B.A. in international business & management, Cavalic joined The Vanguard Group in Philadelphia and moved quickly up the ranks.
“I set goals for myself and learned that persistence pays off,” he says. Once his career was secure, it was time to set another goal—find a way to inspire young professionals to give back. Cavalic reached out to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) and found a Dickinson connection. Kate Weissman ’07, campaign coordinator for the Philadelphia-area LLS, recognized his name and contacted him to discuss ways he could get involved.
“I laid out all of our different campaign options, but I could see that none of them were clicking with him,” Weissman says. Options like marathons or spending one weekend a month volunteering weren’t enough for Cavalic. He wanted something bigger and shared his plan with Weissman.
“At first his idea was a very casual bar night,” Weissman recalls. “But within a month Mirza had totally [moved beyond that] and said, ‘Let’s expand this.’ ”
What resulted in early 2008 was a new nonprofit organization with a simple mission—provide a fun, social way for people to make charitable giving a priority. They found a venue—The Fuel House, a Philadelphia art gallery and event space that offered to open its doors for free. With one quick brainstorming session, they had a name—Fuel the Cure. And things began falling into place.
“I’ve never seen Mirza that passionate about something before,” says Weissman, a former sociology and women’s-studies major. “It was his vision, and I got on board because it’s in my DNA to help people. I know not everybody’s like that, which is the concept—lots of people want to help but they don’t know how. We’re showing them a way.”
Fuel the Cure grew so quickly that Cavalic and Weissman needed help. They recruited two more Dickinsonians, Shane Bair ’04 and Shaina Flynn ’05, and three other Philadelphia-area friends to form a committee.
“One by one I reached out to certain people with different skill sets,” Cavalic explains. The team had everything needed to make the organization a success.
For Bair, it was about more than just helping out a friend. “I also had a loss in my family,” he says. “My grandmother died of leukemia and my mother of bone cancer, so it’s something that’s affected me directly.”
Bair, whose economics major had incorporated several computer classes, and who now works in marketing for RiskMetrics Group, had discovered a talent for creating Web sites. “They didn’t have a Web site at the time, so I offered to devote as much time as I could to creating one.”
In March, planning for the Nov. 8 inaugural event at The Fuel House began in earnest. Cavalic’s goal was to make it grand enough that it would leave a lasting impression on the attendees. They went all out with save-the-date magnets, a half-dozen different caterers, programs, T-shirts, water bottles and raffle tickets. There was music, dancing, drinks and a chance to get dressed up—much more than a typical Saturday night.
“The energy at the event was just so exciting,” says Weissman. “It was a very fun night, but people weren’t just there to party—people got it.”
Based on the results, they really got it. The 300 attendees raised more than $26,000 for LLS.
“It was a huge success,” says Bair. “The event sold out, we received a large number of financial donations and, as we had hoped, people genuinely supported the cause.”
In Weissman’s opinion, “If just five people left our Fuel the Cure event saying, ‘I like what they’re doing. I want to make charitable giving part of my lifestyle,’ then our job is done.”
And according to all three team members, people are still talking. They regularly hear from attendees wondering when the next Fuel the Cure event will occur.
“It’s all about controlled growth,” Cavalic says. “I want to let everything calm down, follow up with sponsors, let the dust settle before organizing the next event.”
Weissman agrees, saying, “We don’t want to burn people out. We’re contemplating a smaller event in the spring catered to more Philadelphia-area people, then another huge event in the winter.”
Fuel the Cure also will be expanding its philanthropy to organizations beyond LLS.
“The most exciting parts about Fuel the Cure to me are the limitless opportunities,” says Cavalic. “We can take this in any direction we would like.”
For more about Fuel the Cure, visit www.fuelthecure.net.